Red Dead Redemption 2 hands-on: 5 things to get excited about

Without a doubt one of the most anticipated games of the year (nay, the generation), Red Dead Redemption 2 is almost upon us, with an official release date a little over a month away on October 26, 2018. 

In the lead up to the game's release, we've had the opportunity to go hands-on with Rockstar's epic western title, experiencing selected portions from Red Dead Redemption 2's single-player campaign (roughly 2 hours worth in total), and while the version we played was not from a finished build, it did offer a significant taste of what we can expect from the final product. 

With an incredible amount of polish and a meticulously designed world, Red Dead Redemption 2 exhibits a level of grandeur that rivals any John Ford or Howard Hawks epic. Based on our hands-on experience, these are the five things from Red Dead Redemption 2 that we're most excited about.

1. An enormous playground

While the first Red Dead Redemption offered a wide-open landscape filled with plenty of things to do and see, its sequel takes that world to the next level, offering rougher, more varied terrain, where one wrong step may find you taking a dirt nap at the bottom of a ravine. 

You'll also see variances in weather, with our preview session kicking off amongst the snow-covered peaks of Mount Hagen, giving the game a chillier vibe reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino's opus, The Hateful Eight

Later, in a much sunnier portion of the game's staggeringly huge map (which was mostly obscured during our hands-on session), we spent some time hunting animals along beautiful green hillsides filled with lush vegetation to brush up against. 

What surprised us during our preview session was how organic exploration felt this time around – not once did we bring up the game's map during gameplay, instead choosing to just walk in the general direction of an icon on our mini-map, eventually finding ourselves caught up in a random adventure spurned by a chance encounter in a tiny saloon. 

Towns also feel denser and more detailed than before, offering a bustling atmosphere and a truly lived-in feel. Though the settlements in the first Red Dead Redemption were mostly situated on flat pieces of land, the ones we explored here offered varying elevations in terrain – something that made it instantly feel more realistic and immersive. 

One small town we stumbled into offered a wide variety of businesses to peruse, including a general store, doctor’s office, bank, gunsmith, butcher and more. Some towns will even have a stable for you to keep a collection of horses in. 

2. Gang relations

Unlike its predecessor, which saw you play as lone-wolf character John Marston, Red Dead Redemption 2 sees you take an active role within a large gang, giving the game a more social feel in the process. For instance, a long day of looting and robbing might be followed by campfire stories in the evening.

As an outlaw named Arthur Morgan, this time out you'll interact with various members of the Van der Linde gang at campsites throughout the game. You'll also be able to team up with specific members for missions, or take part in large heists involving everyone in the group. 

As your gang is basically a living entity, much of what you do during the campaign will directly affect the morale of your camp, meaning you'll need to keep everyone fed (either by purchasing meat from a butcher or hunting it yourself) while also maintaining a steady income of supplies and cash.

Money can also be used to upgrade your camp with additional provisions, horse hitches and much more.

Your gang's morale isn't just for set-dressing, either – while our time in the camp was brief, we were told that dialogue exchanges will be contextual, with character moods and temperaments not only affecting how conversations play out, but also the activities your fellow gang members will be willing to partake in. 

Needless to say, we're very curious to see how much of an impact your camp's morale will have on the overall story, and whether or not all of your gang's members make it to the end of the game. 

3. Men of action

In our first heist mission, titled 'Who The Hell is Leviticus Cornwall?', the gang (minus the first game's hero, John Marston, who's sitting this one out due to some fresh facial lacerations,) sets out across the snowy trails of the Grizzly Mountains in order to stop and rob an armored carriage that's said to be filled with money. 

Of course, the dynamite that was set to stop the train dead in its tracks fails to go off, meaning Arthur and his compatriot Lenny need to race ahead, attempting to stop it in a much more improvised manner. 

Once you've busted your way into the carriage and acquired the bearer bonds held within, you're given the option of either killing the guards in charge of protecting them, or letting them go.

How you choose to proceed will invariably affect Arthur's honor – kill them, and law-abiding citizens will begin to see you as disreputable, which will in turn affect your daily interactions and bring more heat from the law. 

Later, we jumped forward to another mission, titled 'Paying A Social Call' which sees Arthur team up with fellow gang members Dutch and Bill to persuade Kieran, a member of the rival O'Driscoll gang, into giving up his gang's hideout. 

Shortly after, Kieran leads your posse to his hideout, resulting in a large shootout that makes the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral seem quaint by comparison. Gunplay feels smooth and precise here, with Rockstar clearly implementing all the tricks it learnt with Grand Theft Auto V – and did we mention that Red Dead Redemption 2 can be played entirely in first person mode? Well, it can. 

Naturally, the Dead-Eye aiming mechanic is back, only now it can be used in several different ways – once again, you can slow down time, but you can also manually paint multiple targets and highlight critical areas on both men and animals (which is especially useful for hunting), while also firing in an automatic fashion. 

Tapping the right trigger in a relatively rapid manner will also cause Arthur to shoot from the hip, allowing us to live out all of our spaghetti western fantasies with aplomb. 

4. Horsin' around

In the first Red Dead Redemption, your horses were admittedly somewhat disposable, with John Marston regularly jumping from stallion to stallion without a care in the world. 

However, in Red Dead Redemption 2, your character's relationship with his horse is of much more importance. 

If you want your horse to perform as intended, you'll have to bond with it over time. This involves feeding and grooming your mount regularly, and if you want to avoid a freak out at the first sign of danger, you'll have to keep it calm with some gentle pats on the head. 

Horses are also more useful than before, as you can now carry additional weapons, ammo and other supplies in their saddlebags. Keeping your ride healthy and safe is also a necessity, because if your horse dies, it's gone for good. 

As we mentioned earlier, you'll be able to keep a whole stable of horses in Red Dead Redemption 2, with different breeds offering unique personalities and attributes – for instance, certain horses may perform better on certain terrains, and so forth. Thankfully, there will undoubtedly be a suite of Red Dead Redemption 2 cheats to get you the horse you need for your next mountain climbing expedition.

You'll also be able to control your horses with much more depth and precision this time around, with the ability to perform handy tricks, such as skid-turns and proper dressage for strafing. Yes, you read that correctly – you can drift and strafe with your horses now!

5. Ridin' dirty

In an effort to up the ante in terms of immersion, Rockstar has implemented an unprecedented level of detail in its latest open-world production. 

For instance, when Arthur is injured or dirty, he'll stay that way until you've either had your wounds seen to or cleaned yourself up – something you'll definitely want to do, as NPCs will actually treat you like a bum if you look particularly filthy. 

There are far greater character customisation options now, too. While the first Red Dead Redemption allowed you to buy complete costumes, you'll now be able to separately purchase hats, coats, boots, belts, trousers and more. 

Like the horses in the game, you'll also have to groom Arthur on occasion, as his hair (which includes facial hair) will actually grow over time. Of course, a wealth of styling options will be available to you... provided you have enough hair to begin with. And if you do happen to shave your beard off, you'll have to wait for it to grow back before you can do anything with it again. 

These are just a few of the things featured in Red Dead Redemption 2 that left us gagging to play more. Obviously, we'll learn a whole more about Rockstar's latest epic once we get our hands on our review copies, so keep a (dead) eye out for our full review in a little over a month's time.

Stephen Lambrechts
Senior Journalist, Phones and Entertainment

Stephen primarily covers phones and entertainment for TechRadar's Australian team, and has written professionally across the categories of tech, film, television and gaming in both print and online for over a decade. He's obsessed with smartphones, televisions, consoles and gaming PCs, and has a deep-seated desire to consume all forms of media at the highest quality possible. 

He's also likely to talk a person’s ear off at the mere mention of Android, cats, retro sneaker releases, travelling and physical media, such as vinyl and boutique Blu-ray releases. Right now, he's most excited about QD-OLED technology, The Batman and Hellblade 2: Senua's Saga.